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US Lawyer to File New Apartheid Suit Against Major Companies - 2003-10-13

An American lawyer says he will file a lawsuit this week against several major companies for failing to pay workers their pensions in South Africa. Ed Fagan is already suing several South African and international companies that he says benefited from apartheid, but his critics say he is just trying to profit from the country's painful past.

The companies expected to be targeted in the latest apartheid lawsuit include the giant Dow Chemical Company and its subsidiary, Union Cabide.

The flamboyant American attorney is expected to file his lawsuit in New York City early this week, seeking billions of dollars in damages on behalf of former employees who say the companies cheated them out of their pensions. Also on the list is the South African financial services group Alexander Forbes, which managed the pension funds.

Mr. Fagan's partner in the case, South African lawyer John Ngcebetsha, said they are so far representing 269 former workers who paid into the pension plans, but have not received any money since they left their jobs at least 10 years ago. "It is not like here we are claiming for monies that the companies may or may not pay. These are monies that under law they are supposed to have paid back to their employees for the contributions that they put in," he said.

Mr. Ngcebetsha said the attorneys could add more plaintiffs before the case comes to trial. He also says several other companies, especially in the mining sector, could be added to the defendants' list.

The American lawyer leading the case, Ed Fagan, is best known for winning a massive settlement from Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust victims. His critics have called him an opportunist and accused him of trying to profit from South Africa's painful apartheid history.

Mr. Fagan has already filed or announced plans to file a series of apartheid-reparations lawsuits against major South African and international companies, including banking giant Citigroup and the world's second-largest mining company, Anglo American. Two other groups are filing similar lawsuits.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has rejected the class-action lawsuits over apartheid reparations, saying his government will not be a party to them. Earlier this year, he called it unacceptable that matters central to South Africa's future should be adjudicated in foreign courts.

The president also says many of the companies targeted in the lawsuits are now helping with South Africa's development.